Monthly Archives: March 2015
I will be tweeting about my sober travels through Switzerland and Italy for the next two weeks. Follow me on Twitter @unpickledblog
Four years sober last week and guess what? It still takes effort.
This comes as a surprise. I thought it would be easy-breezey-nothing-to-it by now, and more often than not it is easy and enjoyable to live alcohol-free. But sometimes….sometimes….I feel a sucker punch of emotion: anger, jealousy, fear, resentment. I’ve spent the past few weeks in a mental stagger – that rocking feeling that something is off yet nothing is really wrong.
I hear from hundreds of people each week in various stages of recovery, and I am honoured to give help and encouragement whenever possible. Often this correspondence comes from people who are struggling with chronic relapse or who give up on recovery because it is harder than they expected. I’ll be honest – I’ve been finding those kinds of messages harder to handle lately. I want to instantly “fix” them…and not entirely out of kindness.
I want them to stop failing because it bugs me. I want them to keep their failure out of my face because if I can see it, it’s real and I don’t want failure to exist. I want us to all hold hands and skip together into recoveryland. I want everyone to love their lives and get better, dammit. Just. GET. BETTER. It scares the shit out of me that failure is even an option.
(See what I did there? I made someone else’s pain about ME.)
This is where I am going wrong and I know it. I understand full well that other people’s actions are about them, not me. I’ve learned the value in the recovery adage “Keep to your own side of the street”. The moment I view someone else’s story through the lens of my own feelings, I am setting myself up for trouble.
I have found myself saying, “I am sorry you are hurting, this is hard stuff” and meanwhile thinking, “How come you get to fall apart and I have to keep being strong? It is hard for me, too but I don’t get to relapse.” (I am literally cringing as I type this brutal truth.)
A better response to these situations is compassion – my heart aches for those who want recovery and can’t seem to grab on, and I feel for people who would rather tolerate an unhappy relationship with alcohol than work through the discomfort of breaking up with booze. Over the past four years I have learned to feel for others while allowing them full ownership of their situation, knowing that the pathways to recovery are available for those who are ready.
So why the backwards shift in my thinking? Why is my knee-jerk reaction suddenly the opposite of what I know to be good and useful? Why revert to the old self-centered patterns that contributed to my drinking in the first place?
My friend Ellie reminded me to take my gloomy mood seriously, since this type of discontent can be one of the early signs of relapse. Me, relapse? Never! (Hah, denial is the next stage.) I dug through the Bubble Hour archives for the most recent episode on Relapse, remembering that I’d been shocked during the show to learn that relapse is preceded long before the event by 11 various warning signs. This has been researched and documented in the work of Terence Gorski and can be read here.
Am I subconsciously looking for an excuse to relapse? Possibly. My husband and I are leaving soon for a dream trip to Italy and I am anticipating the abundance of wine that will be offered. There is plenty to see, do, eat and enjoy in Italy without wine, but I am bracing for at least a little discomfort. Some corner of my psyche must be considering whether it is truly possible (or necessary) to stay sober on this trip. Much as I hate admitting to imperfection, this bit of doubt is worth acknowledging, considering, and working through.
So keep writing and posting here about your ups and downs, because your journey is your journey. I will do my best to let you own it, and I do hope you will. For those who are struggling, I think you will find Gorski’s work a tremendous resource.
Try doing this assessment called the Aware Score, which stands for “Advanced Warning of Relapse” and consider if you need to boost your recovery efforts. I scored an 85, indicating to me that I need to do some serious work on self care and reach out to my support network.
I am in awe of the changes and insights the past four years have given me. Even more so, I am amazed that at this point in my recovery I still find things that need attention. It is a gentle reminder that recovery is never over, but is more like a garden; as long as we keep to the task of tending it, good things grow in abundance.
On last night’s Bubble Hour podcast, Ellie and I talked about “Drinking Dreams” with recovery blogger Josie (http://themiracleisaroundthecorner.wordpress.com). We looked back over different stages of our recovery and reflected on how they seemed to bring on different types of dreams. Some of those dreams are recovery-enhancing and some can foreshadowing danger.
Drinking dreams in early recovery happen frequently as the brain is just so used to alcohol being part of every activity. We may be having a perfectly lovely dream about a normal event – say, a family picnic – and suddenly realize we are drinking in the dream. After waking with a start, there is usually relief that “it was only a dream” and we are grateful to still be sober.
In time, the dreams happen less and less frequently, and may take on more of a “processing” quality – like trying to figure out how to handle a situation involving alcohol, or dealing with the aftermath of a relapse. How you feel in the dream (and upon waking in reflection) can indicate if the dream is warning of possible relapse.
Near the end of the episode, I rattled off a checklist to help assess dreams. After listening to the podcast this morning I’ve decided to post that checklist here as a resource.
Here is a link to the episode: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2015/03/09/drinking-dreams
When you wake up from a dream about drinking, reflect on it and consider the following:
- Was your alcohol use incidental, such as you didn’t know you were drinking and suddenly realized you were holding a glass? (This is an example of the “familiar backdrop” of alcohol – often occurring in early sobriety because the brain is so used to alcohol being ever-present. Your shocked reaction to the alcohol is a positive indication of your desire to stay sober. Write down the dream and keep it as a reminder to strengthen your resolve to stay sober.)
- Was your drinking dream about using intentionally and were you pleased to find yourself drinking without consequence? (This is an example of “wishful longing for alcohol” and your response may be to spend some time considering all the benefits of your new life in recovery. If you find you have an unstated desire to drink, acknowledge it and look at ways to alleviate it safely. Exercising daily gratitude might be a good idea, to help you focus on the things you love about your life without alcohol, instead of romanticizing it on some level. Going back to journals from your early days of sobriety can be helpful as well. Talk to someone.)
- Were there consequences to drinking in the dream? (If yes, this is a good sign as it shows the subconscious is aware of consequences and plays them out. If not, heed this dream as a warning sign that the subconscious is responding to the lure and appeal of alcohol as relief. This is a time to assess other means of finding pleasure and assuring that the “recovery toolkit” is stocked and ready. Create and stock your recovery bubble – a safe place and means to look after yourself)
- Was the drinking in your dream a solution to a problem you are dreading, like an awkward social event or big work project or public speaking requirement? (If so, take note that your mind is stressing about this and defaulting to the old fall-back of booze. Plan ahead for the upcoming event and acknowledge the real concerns you have. Decide if you should attend or participate, and if you choose to be sure you have a solid plan to enjoy yourself and stay sober.)
I found this article to be a great resource in researching this topic: http://www.asdreams.org/magazine/articles/peters_recovery.htm
What about you? Have you experienced drinking dreams? Have they helped firm your resolve or do you find them to be triggering?